shutterstock_37447723 copy

You aren’t unable. You are unwilling.

There are two sets of problems that salespeople face in producing results. Salespeople get the two sets of problems confused, and so do their sales managers.

In one set of problems, both the salesperson and their sales manager can work to make improvements. In the second set of problems, only the salesperson has the power to make an improvement.

I am unable.

Sometimes the salesperson is unable to do what they need to do to succeed.

They may struggle scheduling the appointments that they need to succeed. They may be unable to have the business conversation that builds their client’s trust and confidence. Some salespeople are unable to gain the commitments that they need that open or advance opportunities. The common factor in all of these is that they are essentially skills-based problems.

Salespeople can gain new skills. They can be taught, trained, developed, and coached. They can learn to schedule appointments effectively. If the salesperson and their sales manager both work hard the salesperson can develop the business acumen that builds confidence and trust in their dream clients. And they can surely be taught to do what they need to do to deserve a future commitment.

How you know you have a skills-based problem is in your effort. If you are relentlessly trying and failing, you need to learn more and change what you are doing.

Your effort is what determines that you have a skills-based problem that can be overcome.

I am unwilling.

If effort defines a skills-based problem, lack of effort defines an unwillingness problem.

If you have to have one set of problems, you are far better off having a skills-based problem. It is incredibly difficult to help people that have an unwillingness problem.

If you are unwilling to make your calls and schedule your appointments, there is no amount of training, teaching, development, or coaching that offers a single ounce of improvement. Here, improvement means being willing to do what must be done to get the result you need.

Gaining business acumen means being willing to read, to study, and to eventually gain an understanding of the business principles that allow you to understand. If you are unwilling to shift your time away from YouTube and Facebook for an hour a day, you will be capable of gaining the business acumen you need, but your unwillingness will prevent you from getting any better.

People who are unwilling often say that they need someone to motivate them. But there is only voice that can motivate them, and until they awaken that inner voice, there is no other voice that can motivate them to take action.

The sales manager’s confusion

Sales managers are sometimes confused by these two problems. They have a perceptual lens that distorts their view.

When sales managers have a salesperson that doesn’t put up the numbers despite having incredible talents and abilities, they wrongly believe that they can help that salesperson to succeed. They can’t.

You cannot teach, train, develop, or coach willingness. And giving these salespeople activity quotas doesn’t work either. They simply aren’t willing to do what they need to do, and you can’t make them.

Conversely, when sales managers come across a salesperson that isn’t putting up the numbers but lacks the natural abilities and talents that they recognize in other salespeople, they mistakenly believe that these salespeople cannot be helped (and that they aren’t capable of helping them).

You can teach, train, develop, and coach salespeople that are underperforming—provided both of you are willing. If the salesperson is willing to do the work and to take actions that are uncomfortable to them, they can learn to sell and succeed. As a sales manager, it’s likely that you are able to train, teach, develop, and coach them—but you also have to be willing.


When you struggle to produce results, is it because you are unable or unwilling?

How do you know that your problem is one of inability?

How do you improve your results when inability is your problem?

How do you know that your problem is one of unwillingness?

What has to change for you to finally be willing?

Join my weekly Newsletter or apply for membership in my exclusive Inner Circle Mastermind Group.

Subscribe to my weekly podcast In the Arena.



  • Dan Collins

    Great post Anthony. “You cannot teach, train, develop, or coach willingness.” Spot on. However when we find willingness – holy cow what we can do…

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks, Dan! I agree completely . . . if and when we find the willingness, we can move mountains! 

  • Jeannette Seibly

    Anthony, great distinction. No one wants to be a failure! Yet, 63 to 79% of the working population are in jobs that don’t fit them!

    It is the responsibility of the companies to ensure they are hiring people that fit! Too often sales managers overthink the problem instead of asking themselves what is the solution.They attempt to fix, counsel, and provide punitive incentives (!) to change a person. After all that effort, it rarely makes a measurable and lasting difference! It is actually kinder to remove them from a job they are unwilling to do or incapable of learning in an adequate amount of time.

    When hiring, it’s critical to use qualified assessments and a strategic hiring system to alleviate these inappropriate hires. In my book, “Hiring Amazing Employees” (, I provide a systemized approach that clarifies the process. In a recent blog,”Measure Sales Success During the Interview, Not After” (, focus on the design of interview questions that clarify a person’s ability and willingness. However, a note of caution, results from past employers does not mean they can and will do the same level of job for you!

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jeannette. I think many people miss the point that compassion means helping to put someone in a role in which they can succeed. I can’t tell you how many times people are grateful after being released because they move onto to a position in which they can succeed. 

      I’ll check out you book!


  • John Heinrich

    If they’re unwilling, why are they even being employed as salespeople? They’re worth about one couselling session to why they’re unwilling, and then….
    John Heinrich, Chief Mentor
    American School of Entrepreneurship

    • Jeannette Seibly

      Unfortunately, John, people who work in sales may falsely believe it’s the fastest and easiest way to make more money. A different example: There are many who get degrees in accounting but have poor numeric skills and no interest in financial work, They falsely believe it’s the way to make a bigger paycheck. Happens all too often.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I think there are a lot of reasons, John, but money has to be chief among them. But, it is difficult to improve willingness!

  • Bob Cohn

    And this unwillingness penalizes everyone! The unwillingness you describe is often (not always, but often) a function of inhibiiton, that is, a sales person may want to succeed, but may unconsciously hold some belief or attitude that makes the activity required to succeed, not just difficult, but actually punishing. As an oversimplified example, if a person has internalized the “you must not talk to strangers” that most of us were taught as children, a networking event can be torture and a proving ground for failure.

    I don’t believe that anyone intentionally takes a job that they are consciously unwilling to do. While it may be hard to believe, these lessons from childhood don’t magically fade as we mature. And often the sales person is aware of the pain that the inhibition creates, but unaware of its cause. An enormous number of salespeople and would-be salespeople who want to succeed are held back by just such inhibitions 

    Identifying these inhibitions before either hiring or trying to devleop sales people can save a lot of time and money for the firm and time and frustration for a sales manager and the sales person.  And there are validated instruments that do identify this unwillingness caused by inhibition. And some of the inhibitions are even treatable.

    • Aby

      I agree with you Bob, i am a sales professional with 9 years experience, my unwillingness to make cold calls, has taken a toll on my numbers i realize that, I was shy/introvert during my childhood, but overcame that, i am currently having the unwillingness to call because i find it downgrading my 9 experience and feel that sales newbies are supposed to make cold calls. I know that its a wrong feeling(arrogance for some), but thats what its for a fact. 5 stars for being bang on…

  • Bruce Sallan

    Boy do I agree with you. Some things can’t be taught. You either can sing or you can’t. You either have perfect pitch or you don’t. Selling to me is close to the same. You either GOT IT or you don’t. I will say the biggest aids to selling well, in my experience, are creativity and persistence!

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Bruce: I agree that persistence and resourcefulness are critical attributes for salespeople. I do believe it can be taught, but it is a lot easier if the salesperson is willing to learn! 

  • Anonymous

    Great post, Anthony! It reminds me of a post by Seth Godin about being stupid vs being lazy. Of course, I would agree that there are genetic predispositions toward certain skill sets but I think, more often than not, “I can’t” is “I won’t” in disguise. It’s easier to be incompetent; it means it’s not our fault. If we’re lazy or unwilling, though, we become responsible for our failings. Successful people are the ones who see in themselves a very limited number of “I can’t”s.

  • Michele Price

    This is your best post.  As a manager, then leader this one question served me well and eliminated the BS that can follow many a business in their lack of results:

    Is it you do not know how OR
    Is it you are not willing to DO?

    Which is it and it cannot be both. Then shut up and let them have a honest moment, hour or lifetime with themselves.

    Having looked back I can see where I was in unwilling.  That is when you have to experience enough pain to get real with YOU.

    Like a parent, you cannot take away our children’s pain or growth experiences to help-defeats purpose.

    So would appreciate being able to have you as colleague in closer proximity, you are my kind of thinker. Each post you write I get to know you better and better and I like what I am learning.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      My best post ever? Thanks, Michele! Let’s catch up on Skype in the next couple weeks. 


  • Aby

    I agree with you and Bob, i am a sales professional with 9 years experience, my unwillingness to make cold calls, has taken a toll on my numbers i realize that, I was shy/introvert during my childhood, but overcame that, i am currently having the unwillingness to call because i find it downgrading my 9 years experience and feel that sales newbies are supposed to make cold calls. I know that its a wrong feeling(arrogance for some), but thats what its for a fact. 5 stars for being bang on…

  • John Heinrich

    At least Aby is being honest. I can’t tell you the number of clients where the sales people would rather eat dirt than make cold sales calls. And yes, it takes a toll on their numbers. BTW, Aby, we have a course in our school for cold call reluctance, taught by one of the best in the business, Connie Kadansky.